It was Christmas and my mother gave me a hermetically sealed copy of the last addition of the Courier Express. It was right around the anniversary of the Buffalo Blizzard of 1977 and got me thinking about my day job in grade school and high school and the history of the Courier Express and my pals delivering the Buffalo News. I was 17 years old at the time of the great 1977 blizzard and it was the only time since I took over the route from my brother where I actually had a few days off. I had 100 customers of every size, shape, color and interesting and colorful personalities and a few stodgy cheap curmudgeons.
That being said, we never got a day off, and if you were lucky enough to go on vacation with your family, you usually had to beg someone to take the route, lay out a map by hand, and overpay to take the route for the week. And how about when you got your license and you didn’t have to pull the wagon through the snow? Who doesn’t remember dragging that wagon through the snow and when it got too deep, you’d anchor it to a sled for easy going? And how about collecting in subzero temps and the customer saying “You were here last week!! There is no way I owe for two weeks!!!” Your hands were so cold it was hard to make change by the end of collections. And waking up at 5:45 AM to see if they called your name on the radio for a free prize. A genius idea to get the carrier army up and roaring ensuring early delivery. And having to borrow money from mom to pay your weekly bill if collections fell short, and she gave it to you interest free. And oh, the bonus, the Christmas calendar, other gifts from some like holiday cakes and cookies, nothing from some, and the noticeable generosity of tips from others. The reward you’d get for being a good business person throughout the year.
To this day I remain an early riser and I attribute it to the Courier. We were armed with all the tools: the delivery bag, the collection tickets, the wagon and the delivery box.
That paper installed good business values. I read page by page the hermetically sealed copy of the last edition of the Courier dated September 18,1982. As I sifted through the sections and pages it was a walk down memory lane. I digressed and read some interesting historical data on the Courier Express, like Mark Twain was an editor in 1869 and they added a Sunday edition in 1875. I found a good friend’s engagement picture, close acquaintance Carla. Was she surprised when I texted her a snap shot of it.
A bit of historical perspective
If you had the Buffalo News route back in the day there was no Sunday edition until 1979. My close friend Rich Weber had the same route I had delivering the Buffalo News. We used to collect together and one of our notable customers was Syd Pastor whose family owned the Pepsi franchise. On occasion he was home and usually owed us $50 each along with a generous tip. My Courier route Monday through Saturday paper count was 35 papers and it was usually a flimsy 35 pages. Rich delivered 65 Monday through Saturday Buffalo Newspapers to the same geographic area. I could stuff all my papers into two delivery bags over each shoulder and off I went. According to John Connolly, a seasoned Buffalo News editor and retired Air Force enlistee “The Wednesday and Thursday editions of the Buffalo News were gigantic compared to the Courier with coupons and advertisements. The Courier saved their coupons and ads for Sundays.” My last year delivering was 1977 and the daily paper was ten cents and the big Sunday money maker was 75 cents. I’d usually get a 15 cent tip on the weekly Courier charge of $1.35.
Connolly also noted “It wasn’t until 1979 when Warren Buffet took the helm that the News started Sunday delivery as well.” As I was delivering and getting to know my customers, usually at collection time, I didn’t know the Buffalo News was the scrappy republican paper and often at odds with the sedate democratic liberal morning paper. I was too young to know the two papers were at odds over the new Bills stadium location where the News wanted the burbs and the Courier advocated for a downtown location. My customers were an eclectic mix of business folks, lawyers, stoners, engineers, moms and the highlight was Milt Northrop was on my route.
Oh those were good times and there should be some type of retired paper delivery alumni association for all of us.
Might be fun.